Poor grade on sexual assault policy spurs change

U of W policies have been reviewed, upgraded

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

In October of last year, national student group Our Turn gave the University of Winnipeg (U of W) a D grade – 54/100 – in their study on how sexual assault was dealt with on campuses.

Almost one full year after CBC published an article on the Our Turn Action Plan and Our Turn’s study, which graded universities across Canada in regards to their sexual misconduct policies, Laurel Repski, the vice president of human resources at the U of W, feels confident that the policies now would receive a higher grade.

Since the article was published, the U of W has been working hard to bolster their protocols to work towards a safer campus, Repski says.

“In developing our new policy and procedures, we did a significant amount of research and analysis of similar policies from across the country,” Repski says. “We undertook consultations with students on campus and worked with student representatives from the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) in developing the new policy and procedures.”

The university also used the Our Turn document, a national, student-led action plan to end campus sexual violence, as a reference to successful procedure, Repski says.

She says one of the key factors of U of W’s low rating last year was they previously did not have a standalone policy and procedure for sexual misconduct.

“Our new policy addresses this issue and also other issues noted in the Our Turn document,” she says. “For example ... online sexual violence and sexual violence which occurs off campus but impacts students on campus are clearly covered under the (new) policy. We have included a section noting the option to submit anonymous and third-party reports.”

Updates to these concerns of lacking sexual misconduct policies come at a timely point as University of Manitoba (U of M) jazz professor Steve Kirby was recently arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault on a student starting back in 2014.

Dr. Nadine LeGier, a women’s and gender studies and rhetoric, writing and communications professor at the U of W, believes charges of sexual misconduct should be taken more seriously on campuses and in university systems across the country.

“On campus, there could be more visits from (advocacy) groups in classrooms. Faculty should be required to participate in presentations on sexual misconduct,” she says. “I don’t think we should give faculty a free pass (on learning about sexual misconduct), because faculty can be just as culpable as students can be.”

LeGier says that at the U of W, faculty are given instruction and information to read on sexual misconduct.

“It’s important not only to have students aware (of what forms sexual misconduct can come in), but faculty aware as well,” LeGier says. “Recent occurrences at the U of M show that faculty also have to be cognisant of what sexual misconduct is.”

According to Repski, additional training will be provided starting in October. Training will include awareness building for administration, staff and faculty.

“I think that the University of Winnipeg certainly is trying very hard. Any effort is a good start,” LeGier says. “But when I say that, I don’t mean it’s a finish. It’s only a start.”

Published in Volume 73, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 20, 2018)

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